People with paralyzing spinal cord injuries have new hope. A new study has found that a wireless musical glove could improve sensation and motor skills. The gadget was successfully used by individuals with limited feeling or movement in their hands due to tetraplegia, known also as quadriplegia, resulting in partial or total loss of use of all their limbs and torso. Called Mobile Music Touch (MMT), the device looks like a workout glove with a small box on the back, is used with a piano keyboard and vibrates a person’s fingers to indicate which keys to play. While learning to play the instrument, several people with SCI experienced improved sensation in their fingers. Researchers at Georgia Tech and Atlanta’s Shepherd Centre recently completed a study focusing on people with weakness and sensory loss due to SCI. “After our preliminary work in 2011, we suspected that the glove would have positive results for people with SCI,” said Tanya Markow, the project’s leader.
“But we were surprised by how much improvement they made in our study. For example, after using the glove, some participants were able to feel the texture of their bed sheets and clothes for the first time since their injury,” said Markow. The eight-week project required study participants to practice playing the piano for 30 minutes, three times a week. Half used the MMT glove to practice; half did not. They had sustained injury more than a year before the study, a time frame when most rehab patients see very little improvement for the remainder of their lives. Remarkably, the device was primarily used while the participants were going about their daily routines.
The MMT system works with a computer, MP3 player or smart phone. Participants also wore the glove at home for two hours a day, five days a week, feeling only the vibration (and not playing the piano). Previous studies showed that wearing the MMT system passively in this manner helped participants learn songs faster and retain them better. The researchers hoped that the passive wearing of the device would also have rehabilitative effects.